Friday, February 21, 2014

The Anti-Mandela at 90

Robert Mugabe turns 90 today. For over one-third of his life--and for the entire lifetime of his state--Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe.

The Guardian's David Smith offers an interesting comparison of Mugabe and Nelson Mandela. Both men fought for the liberation of their states from white minority rule, both languished in prison during the struggle, and both ultimately emerged victorious to serve as president of a renewed, postcolonial state. But Mandela served a single five-year term in office before passing off the reins of power. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, advocated reconciliation and respect for human rights, and lived out his life as a revered statesman--helping to found the group known as "The Elders," in fact. Mugabe, on the other hand, has become the epitome of African despotism--an elderly man clinging desperately (and often brutally) to power in a state that teeters on the brink of collapse. As Simba Makoni, a former Mugabe confidante puts it, "The status he deserves of a national hero on the basis of his role in the liberation of the country, his place in the leadership of the country in the first decade and a half, unfortunately has been totally wiped out by the last decade."

Sometimes it is the character of those who lead that makes all the difference.